We go back in time to witness what might have happened if Jack Dempsey faced Rocky Marciano
By Allan Cerf and John J. Raspanti
One of the fun things in boxing is “what if?” scenarios.
What if John L. Sullivan was around today, would he be a top Cruiser? What would really happen if Money Mayweather took on Barney Ross at lightweight?
Could Jack Johnson have defeated Sonny Liston?
Editor of Maxboxing.com, John J. Raspanti, has other great match-ups in mind – and John has seen a lot of boxing over the years. His input, based on his years watching, writing about and talking to, the world’s best fighters, will add an extra dimension.
If you like these "What If’s" holler. Tell us which mythical match-ups you’d like to see. We’ll do our best to write about them. Also – let us know what you think, are we on the money, or miles off course in our judgements about these fantasy fights?
Final word: Each mythical matchup assumes all fighters have equal access to today’s nutritional and training advantages. It also imagines that each fighter was about the same age as his opponent. If Dempsey and Johnson, fought today, he would of course have today’s advantages – advantages that didn’t exist in his long-ago era.
In the case of our second mythical match-up, we’re going back in time, imagining the day Jack Dempsey met Rocky Marciano during The Roaring Twenties.
Mythical Match-Up Two: Jack Dempsey vs. Rocky Marciano
Date: Saturday, August 26, 1922. 15 rounds for a unified and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
Site: Boyles Thirty acres, Jersey City, New Jersey. 80,000 attendance.
Prize money: An unbelievable $700,000 each, about seven million per boxer in 2020 money.
Network: Some experimental live radio broadcasts, none of which survive. All wire services flash round-by-round summaries to a boxing obsessed America. Babe Ruth, fresh off a 35-homer season, is sitting ringside next to silent screen stars Clara Bow and big-time boxing fan, Charlie Chaplin.
Round one: Dempsey sprints out and uses his commanding 6’1” height and incredible 77” reach advantage, to immediately take it to the flat-footed Rock. Nothing really prepares you for the fury and scientific punching of The Manassa Mauler. Marciano’s trainer, Charley Goldman, had found sparring partners to imitate “The Dempsey Roll.” Maybe they helped a little. Using his drop step and shoulder whirl, Dempsey knocks down Marciano’s guard as Lomachenko does today, then blasts him with a left hook, right cross, that drop The Brockton Blockbuster. Marciano shakes his head, smiles and rises. The bell rings.
Round two: More of the same. Marciano is getting pummeled but his better than average technique - like Dempsey, allows him to stay in the fight. Marciano bobs and weaves throwing punches in bunches. He’s fought taller guys most of his career. Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles all had a few inches on Marciano. A couple of good Marciano shots land. Ominously, sixty men in straw hats faint in the 101 F. heat. No matter, Dempsey is fighting well. Marciano hasn’t felt this outclassed since he won the heavyweight championship from Walcott.
Round three: Between rounds, Dempsey’s trainer, Doc Kearns whispers in Dempsey’s ear, “It’s hot as hell, kid,” slow it down.” Dempsey nods, but by slowing down, he plays into Marciano’s hands. The slower pace is perfect for Marciano, whose heart will give out before his stamina. He feels he can outlast any other fighter. Marciano, one of the few fighters who regularly use right uppercuts as routine counters, is firing them like crazy. He loves to fight on the inside. Dempsey seems discouraged and aware of Marciano’s strange but effective technique. Not a lot in this round, but a clear one for The Rock.
Round four: More of the same, the single shot game. Chaplin, who the year before had written and starred in the acclaimed movie The Kid, tells Ruth, “Jack’s giving away his best advantage, combination punching." Ruth nods solemnly. He’s got big money on his friend, Dempsey. Another clear Marciano stanza.
Round five: It’s not getting any cooler and the crowd gets impatient – both men are mirroring each other by staying low. Marciano bores in, but Dempsey pulls another page from his endless technique. He crowds Marciano - using his own very long arms to smother his punches. Then, using his advantage in speed and amazing accuracy, Dempsey unloads, bludgeoning Marciano with twenty big inside shots. Marciano is buzzed but won’t go down.
Between rounds the doctor merely asks Marciano how he’s doing – not IF he wants to continue. Marciano smiles and says, “Great.”
Round 6: Dempsey is aware of his inferior stamina and the unbearable heat. The sellout crowd of 80,000 is still buzzing over Dempsey’s violent onslaught in the previous round. Dempsey wants to end things here and now. He resolves to do what he did in the fifth, windmill his opponent- come what may. Marciano’s face looks like he’s it’s been used for practice by a butcher. Blood drips from his nose and left eye. Dempsey is relentless, punishing Marciano with hard hooks. Marciano licks the blood off his cheek and moves forward. His right lobe is swollen. Ruth, who missed a number of games in 1922 due to “the stomach ache heard around the world” and Chaplin celebrate wildly.
The tide turns in round seven. Geometry rules boxing. None of Marciano’s left-hand punches are orthodox, and he begins to use his set-up. He throws ugly jabs at the bobbing Dempsey, then ducks so low he could touch the mat before raising up to throw an ugly left hook. It works. The custom 300-pound bags Marciano trains on bear out what Muhammad Ali learned when doing some half-hearted sparring in 1968 with the then 44-year-old Marciano. The man can punch.
Dempsey feels the punches and for the first time, takes a step back. Marciano takes advantage – firing his signature punch – his right hand, nicknamed Suzie Q. As Marciano opponent, the brilliant Charles learned, you can’t prepare for something you’ve never seen. Dempsey bends to hit his crouching foe, something he’s down a million times. Marciano throws his blind right hoping it will hit Dempsey’s head.
Dempsey crumbles to the canvas. The crowd is roaring. Dempsey hasn’t tasted the canvas since getting controversially knocked out by “Fireman” Jim Flynn five years before. Dempsey snarls at Marciano as the bell rings.
Rounds 8 and 9 are Marciano’s. Dempsey is no fool and relies on defense to clear his head. He’s willing to give away rounds to do that. Marciano bludgeons Dempsey with punches to the head and body. Dempsey lands a short-left hook that stops Marciano in his tracks. But only for a second.
Round 10: Marciano is famous for wasting punches, though he doesn’t see it that way. He’s not alone, a modern-day advocate like Lomachenko does too; but all of his punches are more or less accurate. Dempsey is feeling his oats. The heat is getting to him, but his heart, like Marciano’s is huge, he finds his second wind and begins to lacerate Marciano’s pulpy face. He also throws some body shots to less effect.
Marciano, meanwhile, knows about decoy punches. Some of his wasted punches are fakes. He throws a flurry of useless rights and Dempsey smiles – “crude sonaofabitch,” he mutters. Suddenly, as he did in a real fight against Walcott, Marciano throws a totally unexpected, perfect shot. It’s a short right hook on the temple and Dempsey falls straight down. As he was moving back, some of the sting was removed. His nose is broken. Blood gushes. The canvas is crimson and getting slippery.
Between rounds, Doc Kearns tells Dempsey “Your life is worth more than a prize fight, Jack.” Referee, Harry Ertle tells Dempsey, “Kid, you’ve sweated off 20 pounds, this can’t go on forever,” thought the same is true for the 188-pound Marciano; both fighters started the fight at that weight.
Dempsey mounts another rally in round 11. It’s kill or be killed. Another short-left hook fells Marciano for a count of three. Dempsey, only a few feet away, as was the custom at this time, springs at Marciano viciously. Marciano absorbs the blows and fights back, landing another heavy right that collapses Dempsey for the third time. Dempsey uses the ropes to pull himself up, but doesn’t quite make it. Referee Ertle waves the fight off with one second to go in round 11.
Rocky Marciano TKO Jack Dempsey round 11.
Next up: Muhammad Ali versus Lennox Lewis.